All generally accepted truths notwithstanding, more than 96 percent of newspaper reading is still done in the print editions, and the online share of the newspaper audience attention is only a bit more than 3 percent. That’s my conclusion after I got out my spreadsheets and calculator out again to check the math behind the assumption that the audience for news has shifted from print to the Web in a big way.
This exercise was prompted by recent posts by John Duncan of Inksniffer, in which he argues that “internet metrics substantially exaggerate the importance of the newspaper web audience.” Duncan (who seems to have revived Inksniffer from a long dormancy with a series of math-heavy posts during March), provides calculations supporting his conclusion that in the UK, online sites have only 17 percent of the page impressions delivered by printed newspapers.
Let’s examine how this looks in the U.S. First, print impressions: The NAA’s research shows a “daily” (Monday through Saturday) print audience of 116.8 million, and a Sunday print audience of 134.1 million. (This is much higher than paid circulation, but there are 2.128 readers per daily copy, and 2.477 on Sunday.)
We don’t have clear data about the average number pages each member of that audience looks at, but let’s make an educated guess: 24. That translates to about 87.1 billion printed page views per month*. As a check on our assumption of 24 pages: based on annual newsprint consumption of 9 million metric tons, the industry prints about 190 billion pages (a mix of tabloid and broadsheet sizes). So we’re assuming the average reader looks at about half the pages published, which seems reasonable.
Photo by Dustin Diaz, used under Creative Commons License.